Chávez reported doing well after cancer surgery in Cuba

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is reported to be in good condition following surgery to remove a tumor.

Vice President Elias Jaua made the announcement Tuesday to Venezuelan lawmakers, who responded with applause and chants in support of the 57-year-old president.

Jaua told the national assembly that doctors removed a pelvic lesion and the surrounding tissue from President Chávez.

He traveled to Cuba last week to undergo surgery for what he said was likely a cancerous tumor. Last year, the president had surgery and chemotherapy in Cuba to remove a cancerous growth from his pelvic region.

The vice president says Chávez is staying in close contact with government officials. The president has not delegated authority during his absence.

Cuba and Venezuela are staunch allies, and President Chávez enjoys a warm relationship with the former and current Cuban leaders, Fidel Castro and his brother Raúl.

President Chávez has ruled Venezuela for 13 years and is hoping to be re-elected for another six-year term in October. His opponent will be 39-year-old Henrique Capriles, the winner of the opposition primary earlier this month.

Chávez disclosed his condition last week while visiting the site of a proposed tractor factory. He said he had been examined by doctors in Cuba who found a lesion in his pelvis where a cancerous tumor was removed last year.

“I am in good physical shape to confront this new battle,” he said.

But many Venezuelans are doubtful.

“Cancer is something different. It is not a game. He is sick,” said Caracas resident Augusto López.

At a discussion of the upcoming election at the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington, Roberto Briceño-León of the Central University of Venezuela said the illness clearly weakens Mr. Chavez’s chances.

“The normal reaction is: ‘There should be somebody else,'” he said.

Briceño-León says the ruling party will now suffer because there is no clear successor.

The professor of sociology says autocratic leaders often seek to project an aura of virtual immortality, but he says it is a double-edged sword.

“A mental representation of the power, that is at the same time very powerful because it really is effective in the control of the population,” he said. “But at the same time, it is very weak, because it could disappear from one year to another, and when that disappears people lose respect of the power.”

Venezuelans are taking it personally that Chávez tried to hide his health condition from them, says Rev. Jose Virtuoso, rector of the Catholic University Andres Bello.

“I think all of us Venezuelans are offended that there has not been more transparency over this, as there has been in other countries,” he said.

Virtuoso gives the examples of Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo, who was recently treated for cancer, and Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who had a non-malignant thyroid removed.

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